Cork’s Built Environment: Old vs. New

Photography by Emma Price

Words by Grace Claro

Photographer Emma Price presents a visual narrative that captures the disparities within Cork’s built environment. 

In recent years a building boom has been taking place in Cork City.  Developments like the €160 million Horgan’s Quay site and the complex on Albert Quay, a €58 million project completed in 2016, have begun to transform the face of the city, giving it that modernised architectural look which cities across the developed world share. Sleek, angular edifices glitter by night, reflected in the waters of Cork Harbour. Industrial-sized glass windows rise up over the city skyline, shining like beacons of progress and prosperity. These are the buildings city planners want you to admire and aspire to. However, what you see are only delusions of the reality of Cork City’s real estate situation.

Venture beyond the squeaky clean office blocks, (which have subsequently become desolate empty spaces in the Covid era), and you will find yourself in a labyrinth of one-way streets. Cars, double parked, line the narrow pavements outside mildew ridden terraces of centuries old houses. Follow the rooflines and you will notice their gentle downward curvature, an unwanted effect of subsidence on the foundations below. Drops of water trickle down from interior condensation on windows, paint swells and render cracks from internal damp. These houses are in dire need of renovation. Unfortunately, as most are being rented out at a premium to students or young professionals, landlords choose to maintain a basic “liveable” standard in their property by patching up remedial issues and moving on.  

This problem is endemic throughout the rental market in the city, with students having to prioritise monthly rent prices over the standard of their room or the facilities in the property. The student population becomes caught in a vicious circle, with the only other options being the newly completed luxury accommodation blocks which charge extortionate rent. This hum of discontentment escapes those in state-of-the-art office blocks who cannot see beyond the masquerade of modernity which dwells on the docks. There is a growing divide between ambitious developments of contemporary apartment and office blocks, and the old inner city houses which are becoming decrepit money pits. The contrast between modern architecture and time-worn terraces is made startlingly clear to the viewer of these images.  They depict separate worlds existing side by side in the city.